Ride Your Unicorn To Work

When I was 12 I realised I was never going to be the prettiest girl in the room. So I promised myself I would be the smartest. And of course I was; more often than not.

(At 12 you don’t yet know that every woman out there thinks every other woman out there sees someone prettier in her mirror than she does.)

Only now, at 39, do I realise that had I made the same deliberate, conscious decision to be the prettiest girl in the room, I would have found a way to be her.

Why? Because we become who we decide we are. Who we define ourselves as. Who we believe we are.

Who needs beer when you have books?

At university I told myself I was a scholar. I sailed through with A+s in languages that made other students consider careers in fast food. University was easy for me. Of course it helped that I was the smartest kid in the class.

It also helped that I studied for 15 hours a day. While my res friends were waking up in strange men’s bedrooms I was falling in love with the Greek philosophers, enjoying passionate trysts with Feminist poets and taking moonlight strolls back from the library with Jewish mystics.

I was enamoured by their brilliance. And mine. My mother was less so; she offered to buy me beer if I promised to get drunk with my friends instead of hiding in my books.

I explained that the books were my friends. And told her no. In several languages.

I was, by definition and by the callus left by my fountain pen, a scholar, not a party animal.

How do I get baby puke off my keyboard?

Sometimes however life comes along and redefines us. That happened many studious years later when I became a mother. Suddenly my brilliant grey matter was replaced with a porridge brain. (I believe this is the medically accepted term for the stupidity that settles in with pregnancy.)

Having giving up copywriting for nappy changing I felt I’d gone from being the most intelligent person in the room to the one with the most vomit down my back.

Which is why, a few months into mommyhood, I found myself crying in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. The form I was filling in asked for “occupation” and I didn’t have one. My sleep-deprived mind was tempted to fill in “stripper” on account of the fact that I was flashing my breasts more than one. But I didn’t. I decided to fill in the thing I wanted to be most in the world. (Even more than cleverest girl in room or scholar.)

I filled in: “writer”.

“Writer” was what I filled in on every form after that. It’s what I told people I was.

I never told them I meant “aspiring” writer. I never added the word “unpublished” in front of the word. Because, I rationalised (as only smart kids can), that if I wrote, then I was a writer, whether it was published or not.

And so I wrote!

Hesitantly at first. When your body’s got more padding than your couch and your literary interests extend to a large purple dinosaur, confidence isn’t something that comes easily. But I worked it! I was a writer. I was writing.

Do angels read magazines?

The more I defined myself as a writer the more I wrote. The more I wrote the more I owned the right to be a writer. Then at some point it wasn’t enough just to write. I wanted to be read! So I started sending work out to anyone who would accept it.

Finally someone asked me to write for their library newsletter. Rate per word: R0. Audience: app 20. Fan mail: 1.

Yes! I wasn’t only a writer. And I wasn’t only a writer with readers. Turns out I was even a writer with a fan! Which put me roughly in the same bracket as Stephen King, except that my work is funnier and more niche market.

And then the magic happened and my words made their way from my keyboard out across the world to websites and magazines. For good money. To hundreds of thousands of readers.

Ride that Unicorn

Now that I’m older I’m finally clever enough to realise that we become what we define ourselves as. It doesn’t matter what it says we are on our degree or CV. It doesn’t matter what we do to earn money every day.

What matters is where our thoughts are. Who we dream we can be. Where we direct our energies to.

What matters is that every single day we do at least one thing that takes us one step closer to living the life we want so desperately. Even if that “thing” is just taking a few minutes to dream and remind ourselves that we are already the person we want to be, we just can’t see it yet.

At any moment, all around us, are infinite possibilities. Galloping like unicorns, still just fantasy, on the fringe of our vision. Once we can see them, once we believe we can own them, then we own their magic.

Right now I’m redefining myself again. Still just in whispers to myself. In eagerly typed words at four in the morning. I don’t know how long it will take before I see this new version of myself in the mirror. But I already see her in my heart. Because it’s easier to see what’s real and what’s not, up here from the back of my unicorn.

13.4: I’m Gonna Lick You Like a Lollipop!

When you’re lifting overhead, every extra 1kg weighs about the same as a bear … juggling Atlas stones … on the back of an elephant.

So this morning when the 13.4 CrossFit Open workout (45kg clean and jerks plus toe-to-bars) was unleashed like a virus it spread fear and panic of epidemic proportions.

45 Kilograms is heavy! Luckily so am I, so I might make the lifts. But if I do then I’ll need to haul my very ample ass up to the rig for toes-to-bar. It’s going to be an interesting and expletive filled 7 minutes.

I was feeling nervous about it this morning. And when I get nervous the little voice in my head bitches like a snotty teenager. So it’s surprising that I heard Antoinette over all that mental-door slamming and foot-stamping when she said: “Forget about the weight.”

Damn these thoughts are heavy

She’s right of course! It’s what Andrew, our Olympic lifting coach, is always saying. That you’ve got to focus on what you need to do to get the bar up and not psych yourself out focussing on how much weight is on that bar.

But it’s one of those ironies of CrossFit isn’t it? When you load the bar, the part of your brain that can count shuts down. Presumably because it’s rerouting energy to the part that deals with gross motor coordination and not losing a finger to a stack of bumper plates. (Which means you think that loading two 10kgs on a 15kg bar gives you 25kgs.) But when the bar is in your hands you’re suddenly hyper sensitive. Suddenly you’re calculating extra grams of chalk dust and lint and the exact measure by which it’s going to throw off your lift with the accuracy of a cyborg.

That weight is often much, much heavier in your mind than it is in reality. And the longer you stare at it, the more times you add up those bumpers in your mind, the heavier it gets.

So yeah, that’s what you need to do: remember everything you’ve learned about lifting and forget about the weight for a while.

I love the bar lots like Jelly Tots

Ok so what if that doesn’t help? What if no amount of thinking or crying or swearing is going to get that bar up? Here’s my plan …

Do you remember being a kid and having a toffee apple or candy cane or giant lollipop that lasted for days? Do you remember licking it until the sweetness coated your brain, then hiding it in the fridge for later? Well that’s how I’m going to take on 13.4. I’m going to get through it bit by bit.

I don’t know what that “bit” will involve. Maybe I’ll be slamming out toes-to-bar with such grace I’ll run away to join the Cirque de Soleil. Or maybe it will involve 7 minutes of enthusiastically transferring chalk from the bucket to the bar.

Either way, at the end of it I’ll have 13.4 licked! Like a lollipop! And you know what? Courage tastes just as sweet as success.

Skin-the-Cats and the Zombie Apocalypse

Zombies-Run

In our house massacring zombies has been the main form of physical activity for my 12 year old son. Until recently that is.

Our kids are growing up in a world where “go play outside” means moving your Minecraft character from the underground tunnels of your fortress to a field of oddly cube-shaped cows.

Last year, in an effort to encourage more time with his imagination and less time with flame throwers and machine guns, I hauled my son off to Exclusive Books. He interpreted my instruction to “pick a book” a little more loosely than I’d planned and chose an audio book. For the next few weeks he prowled the landscape of X Box Live hunting for the living dead while listening to detailed instructions of how to survive the Zombie Apocalypse.

So you can understand that if getting him out of the bedroom was and into the real world was a battle, getting him onto a sports’ field was an impossibility!

Argh! The soccer ball! It burns!

My son hates sport with as much passion as he hates losing his last life to the lurching dead. Maybe even more, because there are no power-ups out there on the field. Out there it’s just you against the blistering sun, a vicious expanse of knee-grating grass and a coach who trained in a Russian labour camp.

As someone who spent my childhood hidden in books, I felt his pain. But as a mother I also felt it was my duty to inspire/coerce/cajole/bribe/threaten him into some kind of physical activity.

Working your thumbs doesn’t qualify as sport

Then came CrossFit Kids! I watched in amazement as my son – who apparently lacks the flexibility to bend down and pick up his dirty clothes – hung upside down from the rings, legs stretched backwards over his head, performing a very beautiful “skin-the-cat”. There was my little zombie slayer, hanging and squatting and running and jumping and rolling. And it wasn’t even because he was fleeing a marauding bloodless horde with automatic weapons. He was doing it because he liked it. Because it felt good! Because it was fun!

 Which is of course why he continues to head off to CrossFit Kids Jozi week after week, with a kind of enthusiasm that was once reserved for placing land mines and using invincibility cheats.

Catch me if you can

And that I think is the key to getting kids to exercise: give them the kinds of things they love doing naturally. The kinds of things they did spontaneously when they were little. Because those things feel like fun, not work. And those are the movements their bodies instinctively want to do; need  to do.

So they go from hanging upside down on the jungle gym to doing it on the rings. From hopping over puddles and up stairs to jumping onto boxes. From hurling Teddy around to swinging a kettle bell. From tumbling on the grass to doing forward rolls.

And if there is a Zombie Apocalypse my CrossFit kid is going to be well prepared. His head is crammed with vital information … that zombies can’t jump, for example. Which means a quick pull up onto the garage beam followed by an inchworm crawl across to our emergency supplies is all we need to survive.

Yup, that’s us, killing zombies one skin-the-cat at a time!

Visit CrossFit Kids Jozi on Facebook

We Go Together Like Rips and Friar’s

 

I don’t do CrossFit for the WODs
 
Hard to believe I know. But it’s true. I don’t do it for the thrill of flinging myself upside down only to realise that puke comes out easier that way. I don’t do it for the tingling exhilaration that comes from recapturing my kettlebell mid-flight on its way to bowling the coach down like a skittle. And I definitely don’t do it so I can brag about how I’ve given blood this week … and probably some skin too.
 
I do CrossFit for the people.
 
Alone like a broken bar
 
“When you ask people about love they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask them about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. When I ask people about connection the stories they tell me are about disconnection.” I read this achingly brilliant bit of wisdom by Brene Brown in bed yesterday.
 
(I apologise for not being able to put the little accent sign above the second “e” indicating it’s pronounced “ay”, but my knowledge of word only stretches as far as punctuation I can use for smileys. Plus, it annoys me when a letter acts like spoiled single child, wearing the linguistic equivalent of a plastic tiara and refusing to make pretty sounds by playing with the other children.)
 
So back to Brene-pronounced-Brenay. She’s right isn’t she? Not only about us feeling sense of disconnection. But that we believe we’re unique in this regard. That we’re alone in feeling that we’ve never quite belonged. Isolated in our conviction that somehow the world doesn’t quite see us for who we really are.
 
Yet here we are, all of us, telling ourselves there must be something bigger to be a part of, if only we could find it. All of us feeling all the while that if life really is a cabaret we’ll always be the shmucks outside parking the cars.
 
If I follow you to your box will you keep me?
 
It’s true I think of most of us that we spend a large part of our lives, whether we’re conscious of it or not, looking for that place where we belong. For people we connect with.
 
And then we find CrossFit!
 
But according to Brene the finding is just the first step. “For connection to happen we need to let ourselves be seen, really seen … vulnerably seen.” Yes I realise she means emotionally. I didn’t get through a language degree without being able to find 3 levels of meaning in a simple “Please Call Me”. But I think that when it comes to CrossFit it’s about more than that.
 
I style my hair with chalk
 
You know those pictures in National Geographic showing flood, famine and quake survivors looking like supermodels? Well we look nothing like that. I’ve seen many pics of myself training and I look pretty much the same as I have since becoming a mom: larger than I seem in the mirror, eyes glazed with too little sleep and even less sanity.
 
Most of us do. Except the girls from CrossFit Platinum. At the end of their workouts they look like they’ve been kissing Rich Froning in the rain, not splashing in other people’s sweat. But that’s because Julian splices his athletes’ genes with the DNA of wild mustangs. It’s true. If you don’t believe me you haven’t seen Beatrix run.
 
So this is how CrossFit allows us to be seen as we really are: terrified, elated, exhausted, sweat soaked, crying, panting, puking. And more than that, seen as we are when we’re pushing harder than we knew we could. Lifting heavier than we thought we were capable of. Seen as the amazing, capable beings we sometimes forget that we are.
 
Help! I got pinned doing a back squat
 
But while we revel in our strength here we also submit to our vulnerabilities. In the box we learn it’s ok to ask for help. To say we can’t do something. To say we’re not perfect. That we’re not strong enough to do this alone. Really all the things we’d never say out there where to show vulnerability is to show weakness and to show weakness is to expose your jugular to a vicious world. And unfortunately, in the real world men in body glitter aren’t queuing up trade you eternal life for a chance to rip into your veins.
 
Smash it to Linkin Park
 
Yes, I’ve smashed out thrusters to “I’ve become so numb” hoping that at some point it might actually happen and anaesthetise my chest cavity as my lungs try to make a break for it through my ribs. But apparently, if Brene is right (and I think she is) “You cannot selectively numb emotions. In our moments of most intense joy, we are often at our most vulnerable.”
 
And that sums it up for me I think. Here in my box my emotions run riot. Sometimes I leave shattered by the intensity with which they strike. Here I find my agony and my ecstasy. Here I find a family. And they see me as I really am. But more importantly, they help me see myself as I really am.
 
And here with them, I sometimes feel vulnerable … but I never, ever feel alone.

We Don’t DO CrossFit; We ARE CrossFit

 Smells like CrossFit

I wish we had a secret handshake. All the great and enduring cults – no of course I mean “groups” – in history have one. And we qualify as such a “group” right?

 Let’s go through the checklist I found online shall we?

    • The group displays excessively zealous commitment to its leader. Check.
    • Mind-altering practices push the body to     the extreme. Pukey says “check”
    • The group is elitist. Check. Unless we’re forging pedestrian fitness now.
    • The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality. Check. Unlikely to change unless we bring Zumba into our warmups.
    • The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. Check. Tia and I are considering printing little leaflets saying “Have you Found CrossFit?” and handing them out at Virgin Active
    • Members devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities. Check; I’m writing this in between practicing pull-ups from my security door.
    • Exclusive rites and ceremonies. Check. We like to call  ours “burpees”

I’m joking of course. Cult members don’t eat as much cream as we do. (Paleo; I love you.) And they don’t have our killer T-shirts.

Nope, we don’t have a secret handshake. Possibly because no one wants your bleeding palms covered in sticky Friar’s Balsam touching them. What we do have however are T-shirts. And we wear them wherever, whenever we get together with other zealots, whether in our box or not.

Why? Because CrossFit isn’t only about the WODs, it’s about the people, about our attitude, about the big values we embrace and the small things only other CrossFitters understand.

The 5 min flash lunchtime CrossFit workout

Last week someone told me she was doing CrossFit. I mean, “CrossFit”. She described her non-certified trainer and non-affiliated gym with enthusiasm while hobbling like someone who got a little extra loving from Fran. It made me angry. And sad. Angry because her coach is robbing our community. Sad because he’s robbing her of the full, true CrossFit experience.

It’s like this: you can take antioxidant pills, but you can’t duplicate the lip-puckering tartness of fresh berries staining your fingers with their sweet-sour deliciousness. You can WOD anywhere, but you can only feel the heartbeat of CrossFit in our boxes.

It is impossible till it’s not

My new CrossFit shirt arrived yesterday; it’s the ones Rika Diedericks had made when she went to the Games. In the accompanying letter she says: “CrossFit is about community and I definitely experienced this in a big way at the Regionals where it literally felt like I was being lifted through the rings by the amazing support of the CrossFitters in the arena.”

We all know what she means right? How we prove to ourselves, again and again, that we’re better and stronger than we think we are; not because we believe it but because our fellow CrossFitters do.

Maybe T-Shirts are better than a secret handshake after all because, let’s be honest, none of us are particularly secretive about this beautiful thing we’ve discovered. This thing that’s not a sport. It’s not an exercise. It’s not even a cult. In fact it’s not something you can pin down with words. It’s something you feel. Like love. Like happiness. Like power. It’s infectious and it binds all of us with our individual lives and hangups and aspirations into one magnificent community.

And it’s never, ever just something you do. It’s something you are. Something we all are.

My Head Fuzzy With Dreams

“Do you ever wonder where swallows go in the winter? They come to my workshop to fetch the dreams they’ll take with them in the spring.”

When I was 13 I had a part in the school play as the Maker of Dreams. I stood on stage and proclaimed that “I make all the dreams that float about in this musty world.” At 13, my awkward shyness masqued by layer of green sequin and thick makeup, I never knew how close I was to the truth.

When we’re young we spin our hopes into dreams like sugar into candyfloss. Every dawn brings something new to wish for. Our days are spent fantasizing about the people we’ll become and planning for the lives we’ll live. The present is just a series of stepping stone that we flit over, hurtling towards a future that awaits us, resplendent with the rewards we’ve dreamed into being.

When do the unicorns die?

So what happens when tomorrow comes and you’re finally there, in the future you longed for, living those dreams?

What happens is that you look in the mirror one day and you realise that the lines on your chest aren’t imprints from the sheets; they’re wrinkles. They’re the fingerprints of Father Time on your body.

What happens is that you wrestle your clothes on and wonder how you went from pert to plump and why that extra padding isn’t smoothing out those wrinkles.

But more than that, you look around you and you suddenly realise that this is it; this is what you’ve worked a lifetime for. 

It happened to me. Amidst the sound of departing unicorn hooves and the rustling falling of fairy wings I looked at my life and asked the aging, tired looking woman in the mirror: what if this is all there is?

What if this is as good as my life is ever going to get?

Clousbusting

Not that I have a bad life! It’s actually pretty much what I dreamed of … more or less. There’s more fat and less fame. More debt and less freedom. More bad 80s hair and less good 80s music.

But then there’s also move love and less longing. More settling and less running. More appreciation for the beauty I possess and less angst over the beauty I don’t.

So it all balances out, more or less. Except when it comes to dreams. Dreaming is something you do less of as you get older. The bustle of work and traffic and kids and homes traps pins you to the present. And there you struggle, trapped like a beautiful butterfly with dusty wings, worrying how you’ll make it through just this next day.

So this year I plan to start dreaming again. Not small dreams that are easy to achieve; giant untamed dreams huge spiralling out like a distant nebula. Dreams that spark and crack like lightning in my brain. Dreams I wake up thinking about at 2 in the morning and then lay awake imagining until sunrise; so sweet I can taste them. 

This year I’ll be seeding clouds with my wishes so that beautiful things will rain down on me and nourish my soul.

Where are my wings?  

This year I’ll be living my life like a Pantomime. Where every frog is really a prince. Where the ending is always happy. And where women never grow old, they just grow sparkly wings and become fairy godmothers.

Because this isn’t as good as it’s going to get. This is just a good beginning. And today and tomorrow and every day I’m going to make candy-floss dreams and keep imagining the kind of woman I’m going to be when I finally grow up some day.

But since I’m older and wiser I’ll do it without worrying about whether my spiral perm will take or if George Michael will ever realise I’m the material girl for him.

“We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.
World-losers and world-forsakers,
Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world forever, it seems.”      – A. O’Shaughnessy

Put On Your Batgirl Panties

Have you done anything this week that really matters?

Before you answer that consider this: someone out there saved a rhino, someone preserved a dying language; someone met the president; someone had a baby.

Ready to answer now? Maybe you should mull it over while I tell you about the things other people did that really mattered in my world this week.

Someone smiled at me in traffic when I was frustrated to the point of tears. Someone at work made me smile when my day was playing out like the Itchy and Scratchy Show. Two somebodies shared a vision with me that restored my faith in a community I care about. My partner made me cappuccino with glitter on. And my son snuggled with me even though it meant taking time away from his X-Box Live buddy SpyGaz, who he believes is a 12 year old boy from Switzerland and who is therefor most likely a 52 year old peeping tom with flatulence.

I think you’re better equipped to answer that question now, don’t you?

Wake up and smell the bubble gum

There was a time in our lives when we never needed to be reminded about what really mattered. Back when tying our shoelaces was a superhuman feat and learning to blow chewing gum bubbles put you on a pedestal so high only the kids who’d finally figured out yoyos and hula hoops had any hope of joining you there.

Back then we knew instinctively that a wilted flower yanked from a crack in the pavement and given with love was a precious and cherished gift that would live forever in someone’s favourite book. We knew that when we laughed the people who loved us laughed too and we did it as often and as loudly as we could. Without thinking about it we understood the happiness we gave when we shared our juice bottle and the hurt we eased by letting someone else hug our favourite bear.

Back then we I knew a hug could fix hurts and heal hearts and I felt like a superhero just because I knew how to give them.

Blame it on Mr Miyagi

But then at some point we all learned that, like the Invisible Man, the world doesn’t see us unless we find a way to shine. We learned that the only things that really matter in the world are the ones other people can measure and compare. We learned that if someone doesn’t tell us we matter then we don’t.

So we work hard, we wax on and wax off hoping someone will recognise our effort, see our worth, tell us we’re special. We do it day after day, year after year, and eventually we find ourselves in adulthood in a world that doesn’t care how hard we’ve worked; it only cares whether or not that work has put us on a podium or platform or pedestal. It doesn’t care how far we’ve come but only how far behind everyone else we are.

And here we are, all of us, wanting to be winners but feeling like losers a lot of the time because everyone around us seems to have mastered the Art of Happiness, the Secret to Success, the Lessons of Love.

Somehow everyone else just seems to shine while we scurry along in the gathering darkness hoping that if we keep polishing away at our rough bits that somehow, sometime we’ll shine.

Put me in spandex and call me Batgirl

You know what we’ve forgotten during all these years spent growing up?  We’ve forgotten that we don’t need to be the brightest star in the sky to light up someone’s world.

I’m realising more and more that there really are superheroes out there. Not the kind who live in a world where Victoria has no Secrets. I mean the wonder women and super men who do the small things that make a difference even if their only superpower is using X-ray vision to see through someone’s smiling façade to a heart that needs a little extra TLC.

Yup, I’m going to be that person today! I’m going to put on my Batgirl panties (feel free to substitute with Batman boxers unless you’re one of the Village People) and I’m going to “practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty”. Why? Because when I do the things that matter then I matter; and that’s what really matters, right?

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